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Defining Sales Success – The Art and Science of A Sales Managed Environment®

Posted by Tony Cole on Tue, Mar 14, 2017

I'm sure someone from the Harvard Business Review or the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business could prove otherwise, but when it comes to defining success, I don’t believe there is an art to it.

  • DeWitt Cheng, freelance art writer and critic, Bay Area, CA: Jorge Luis Borges wrote," Art has become, in the experimental 20th and 21st centuries, impossible to define."
  • Robert Berman, Robert Berman Gallery, Los Angeles: "Reality is by agreement. The reality of art is usually by some kind of agreement. The arbiters are the museums, the museum curators, the people who spend their lives and their time actually being critical of what they see and judging what they see. If you add in four or five art critics who are then able to write about it, if you get four or five major collectors who are passionate about what they collect to patronize it, and several major auction houses to auction it, then a consensus or vetting process begins to unfold."cat art.png

I don’t have the space to include, and you don’t have time to continue to read, all the articles available when I google "What Makes a Work of Art Successful", so we’ll let these two quotes validate that, when it comes to defining sales success, it is best not to be arbitrary or hope for a consensus.

Science Defined by Merriam Webster:

1:  the state of knowing :  knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding

2a :  a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study the science of theology  b :  something (as a sport or technique) that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge have it down to a science.

It is safe to say that if, within your sales managed environment®, you have "defining success" down to a science, then you will be in a better position to identify:

  • Metrics that determine success
  • What leading indicators lead to success (kind of like a math problem – although there are a multitude of formulas you could use to arrive at the number 4, there are probably only a couple that people would use:
    • 2 +2
    • 3 +1
    • The square root of 16
  • Define the goal to be achieved – it’s a number or a definitive outcome.


Maybe there is something beside the math/science that has to go into it.  I’m not sure it’s art (so I would love to hear from you what you think it is…) but here is what’s been noodling in my head for a couple of days.

This basketball season, Northwestern University of the Big Ten Conference, beat Michigan (Sorry, Jack, Mark and Marty...) with a buzzer beater full court pass and short jump shot.  Take a look here:  NCAA Video

In the aftermath, every sportscaster was talking about how this was the most wins in NWU history, it will be the first time EVER that the school has made it to the NCAA tournament and the coach, Chris Collins, has increased the number of wins every year he has been the head coach at the University.  With the win over Michigan, they recorded their 21st win of the season.  This information would lead us to believe that Coach Collins is successful because you are comparing his results to a standard that is generally accepted as success:  Winning 20 games a season and qualifying for the NCAA tournament.

The head coach at Columbia University with the most wins is Lou Little.  Lou coached the Lions to 110 victories!  When Coach Ray Tellier retired from Columbia in 2002, the article announcing his retirement declared that he was the 2nd all-time “winningest” coach in Columbia’s history behind Lou Little.  When I read this, I was impressed and happy for him; Coach Tellier was an assistant coach at the University of Connecticut when I played there.

What I didn’t know at the time of the article, but found out later, was that Coach Tellier, over a 13-year period, lead his teams to victory 42 times - a 30.7% winning record.  And he was second on the list at Columbia.  Coach Little, with the most wins, had a winning percentage of 48.8% and averaged just over 4 wins a season over a 26-year career as the head coach at Columbia.

What does this have to do with selling and determining sales success? Everything.

Companies collect lots of data and sales managers do their very best to spin a good story when outcomes are not equal to or greater than expectations (goals).  Here are some examples of how outcomes are described when attempting to put a good spin on a bad outcome:

  • We are trending the right direction
  • Our year over year production is positive
  • We are outperforming our peer group
  • We have gone from #____ in stack ranking to #______
  • We will finish in the top percentile of our district
  • _____% of our team will qualify for incentive compensation

Those descriptions tell you nothing about how a team is actually performing.

What to do instead:

  • Identify metrics that are critical success factors for your organization. (In most organization the #1 metric is revenue – it pays the bills.)
  • Establish standards for those metrics that exceed previous performance levels and are consistent with what the market will allow. (You wouldn’t expect an operating unit in Bangor Maine to produce the same loan revenue as you would an operating unit in Manhattan.)
  • Make sure you are looking at execution metrics so that your success is duplicable and you can identify choke points when there is failure.

Do this now:

  • Call me about Scorecards for sales opportunities – 513.226.3913

Topics: Sales Tracking, sales performance coaching, responsibilities of sales manager, how to hit goals in sales

Why Do Sales People Leave Companies? - Management

Posted by Tony Cole on Wed, Mar 01, 2017


According to the article, People Leave Managers, Not Companies by Victor Lipman, the research is unanimous in the premise that managers are directly responsible for the productivity of the people they manage.

Gallup data shows 30% of employees “engaged.” Towers Watson data shows 35% “highly engaged.” Dale Carnegie data shows 29% “fully engaged.” And these aren’t small studies; the Gallup survey includes more than 350,000 respondents and the Towers Watson survey includes more than 32,000. Gallup goes on to estimate an annual cost in lost U.S. productivity of more than $450 billion. This is a staggering figure. Even if it’s imprecise, it gives a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”


My mandolin teacher is a better player than he is a teacher. I’ve not had music lessons before so I may not be an accurate judge of what makes a good music teacher, but I have been taught and coached before.  The best ones have always engaged me by first understanding what I wanted to accomplish, getting a feel for my current state (skill level) and assessing my commitment to being better.  I’ve not had this discussion with John at all. The starting point in my lessons was him jumping in and telling me about keys, chords, progressions and scales.  I might as well take Greek lessons.  I was interested… but not engaged.



I will not seek out another instructor… nor will I tell him he’s ineffective as a teacher because he spends his time showing off stuff that will take me years to learn while I pick my way through the Godfather Theme for the 1000th time.  Why?  Because I don’t have time to seek out someone else, I am learning something and, most importantly, I'm not going to “lose my scholarship” if I don’t get Country Boy by John Denver.

What does this have to do with managers, specifically sales managers? Everything.

I will admit that I just signed up for the music instructor that they had available.

  • Kind of like a salesperson taking a job and really not knowing the qualifications of the manager that will be leading them to success.

I will admit that I’m approaching music as a pastime and not like my life or my retirement plans depend on my music skills.

  • Kind of like a salesperson taking a new sales role and really not understanding what the expectations are for success in the first 90 days
  • Kind of like salespeople already on the staff that are “at leasters” and aren’t worried about their position because, as long as there are people below them on the stack ranking, they won’t “lose their scholarship” (job).


Eventually, one of two things happen:

  1. The company catches up with the WITALAIITUs and the salespeople get put on PIPs. They respond well enough to keep their job or they immediately start looking for a new one.
  2. Or they get fed up with the hassles of performing better without any significant support, training or coaching to help them get better and so they leave.


At the end of the day, the turnover ratios in the company continue to put a drain on profitability. HR and hiring managers explain it all away as “the nature of our business”. 

It’s the nature of the business only because business allows it to be so. They allow ineffective recruiting, poor on-boarding, sloppy or missing solid performance management and last, but not least, the continuation of ineffective of coaching.


What to do?  These three things will get you started:

  1. Start with Better Ingredients - Like the cooking analogies I’ve used before, start with fresh ingredients. In this case, I mean start with better people.  I don’t mean people that are just better from a moral or ethical perspective, although that's normally pretty important.  In this case, I mean start with people that fit your culture and will do well on the scorecard for success.

Sample Scorecard For Success:


  1. Have a Supportive Sales Managed Environment® - You have to have the structure in place so that the person in charge of running the show won’t have excuses or reasons to fail.  Essentially, you need to have systems in place for:
    1. Performance management
    2. Upgrading the sales force
    3. Motivating the sales team
    4. Coaching for success
    5. Recruiting top talent
  2. Management with a Coaching Bias - Phil Jensen spoke of the 3rd factor (as it relates to coaching) several years ago at an Ecsell Institute Sales Management Summit. The concept is simple.  There are two factors that most of us rely on to function and succeed – Nature and Nurture.  Jensen suggest that people also rely on a third factor – in the case of successful managers, they have a “coaching bias”. That is their 3rd factor.  They care more about developing people than they do anything else.  They experience success as a result of the success of the people they are coaching.

Additional Resources:

No More Hiring Mistakes. Guaranteed! –

Identify Your Systems and Processes – Sales Effectiveness and Impact Analysis Sample

Topics: sales talent acquisition, sales performance coaching, responsibilities of sales manager

Overcoming the Sales Goal Deficit – The Tom Brady Version of Sales Management

Posted by Tony Cole on Wed, Feb 08, 2017

Super Bowl LI was something special to watch - unless you are a Falcons fan and then it was a disaster.  You could see it happen right before your eyes. The Patriots struggled in the first quarter while the Falcons had complete control of every aspect of the game.  And then… it happened.

Depending on what expert you listen to, there are a variety of plays in the game that you could point to and declare, “That was the turning point!” Even though I played a lot of football (13 years), coached a lot of football (6 years) and watched a lot of football (50+ years), I’m no expert – but I believe the play below was the turning point in the game.  (Click to view on Youtube.)


In my opinion, it happened in the third quarter.  As you can see in the upper left hand corner of the picture, it’s 3rd and 8 with 4:49 left in the quarter and the Patriots are down 28-3.  So far in the game, they hadn’t had much success at all.  In their five possessions in the first half, they had punted 3 times and had 2 turnovers.  On this play, with no one open to throw to, Brady did something he rarely does – he ran with the ball.


New England Patriots














Brady’s record shows that he had only run with the ball 28 times in 12 games.  That’s a mere 2.3 rushes per game with a total of only 5.3 yards per game.  His longest run in 15 years accounted for nearly 25% of the total yards he gained the entire season… and he fumbled once.  If you were going to run the ball to gain 8 yards for a critical 1st down, the last guy you would call on to do that would be Tom Brady. If, however, the game is on the line and you needed to call on someone that wants the ball when the game is on the line - and you want a guy that will get the job done again as he has in the past - then you would call on Tom Brady.

Why Tom Brady?  Well, in the words of Beth Mooney, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Key Bank, it boils down to this – The Shadow of the Leader.

The jobs of sales management (video) are many, but when it comes down to it, the primary roles fall into three categories:

  • Lead for Results
  • Manage Activities
  • Coach Behaviors

These roles make up the cornerstone, so to speak, in our Sales Managed Environment® Certification program.  Everything that you do or need to be doing day in and day out as a manager should be an activity that supports one of these three contributing factors to sales growth.

  • Lead for Results – This requires that your vision for your team supports the overall vision of the organization, but it is also a vison that your people support and are motivated by. Yes, we know by using the Objective Management Group Sales Force Evaluation that close to 70% of all sales people are motivated internally, but that internal motivation is often tied to the place where they work.  They want to feel like the work they do is meaningful. They want to be recognized for their accomplishments. They want to feel that they are making progress personally and professionally. They rely on work to make their personal dreams come true. They need someone – you – to lead them to places they don’t think are possible and to lead them when the odds seem to be against them.  (Down 25 points with 20 minutes left in the game.  No team in the Super Bowl Championship has ever overcome even a 10-point deficit!)
  • Manage Activities – These activities get the results you want. Everything starts with belief and belief controls your activities.  At half time, according to Tom, the discussion was not about “What do we do now?”  The discussion was about “This is what we’ve done.”:
    • We’ve moved the ball.
    • We’ve controlled the clock.
    • We’ve allowed them to move the ball the full length of the field for a touchdown.

We’ve been doing a lot of things right.  And we’ve made a couple of mistakes, but it isn’t like they are stopping us or completely running over us.  Let’s stay the course, do what we do best, control what we can control and - when the time comes - we’ll make the plays we need to win.

  • Coach Behaviors – There wasn’t a whole lot of “in-the-moment” coaching going on during the game. Yes, there were a couple of situations where Tom made a motion for a receiver to break his route and run deep and then Tom delivered the ball for a long gain. Yes, there were adjustments made to blocking schemes and defensive fronts, but those adjustments were easy to execute because of all the practice prior to the game.  Recently, I was listening to a talk radio show where they were discussing how the Patriots go about practicing pass patterns for when Brady has to scramble out of the pocket. These aren’t plays that just happen by accident.  They are due to hours of specific practice where the offensive team run through scenarios they might encounter in a game.  And they have to learn those plays on the practice field so that, in a real game when the lights are on and everyone is watching, they can execute them and make them look “easy”.  That's what Tom Brady and Bill Belichick demand and that is why the team performed so well under pressure to overcome a historic deficit and win Super Bowl LI.

Additional Resources:

Are You Wasting Sales Training Dollars?

Do Your Sales Growth Strategies Exceed The Limits of Your Sales Team?

Are You Drafting The Right People For The Right Roles?

Topics: sales performance coaching, how increase sales, responsibilities of sales manager, teamwork coaching

The Art and Science of Cooking Up a Sales Team Built for Growth

Posted by Tony Cole on Tue, Jan 31, 2017

At Christmas, my wife, Linda, bought me a cookbook – The Science of Good Cooking.  She gave it to me because I really do love to cook. I love to cook because I love to eat.  I’m not a foodie who is into exotic or gourmet types of recipes.  I’m a basic meat, potato, soup, pasta, BBQ, stew and sandwich kind of guy.  You’ll notice the absence of veggies in that list.  With the exception of ratatouille, steamed broccoli and sautéed French green beans, I don't do veggies.

Last night was meatloaf night.  I hated my mom’s meatloaf.  She put ketchup/tomato paste on it!  I hated ketchup as a kid and I am still not super fond of it even now.  Tomato paste is supposed to be used for just one thing – Dad’s tomato sauce for spaghetti and meatballs!  However, a couple of years ago, Linda and the family wanted meatloaf, so I found a recipe from and I’ve been in love with meatloaf ever since.

Originally, what I didn’t know about cooking was the science that makes a dish work or makes a dish a disaster.  Over the years, I have learned that…

  • Low and slow allows the proteins in meat to breakdown and make most, if not all, “tough cuts” of meat more tender. I followed the practice in smoking meats but not with the Thanksgiving turkey until this last year – WHAT a DIFFERENCE!
  • The most important cooking purchase you can make is an instant read thermometer.
  • And, for my meatloaf recipe, you can substitute gelatin for veal.we are.png

Once you understand the science, what you do next becomes your ART.

The food is your canvas and you get the chance to paint it any way you want.  I like food with a little zing, so I tend to add cayenne pepper and/or red pepper chili flakes.  In chili or soup, I like to add Tabasco.  In my mashed potatoes, I’ve been known to add way too much butter, half and half and jalapeno peppers.

Another example of art and science is exercise and fitness.

If you want to improve your strength or endurance, two things are required - effort and execution.  Effort is the science (math) part of the equation.  Hypertrophy (growth) of muscle and increases in endurance both rely on the SAID Principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand.  Simply stated:  if you want to improve, you must impose a demand on the system. i.e.  Lift weights for strength; exercise aerobically to improve cardio-vascular capacity. (This ties into my Nautilus years!)

Failure to impose demands on your physical systems results in atrophy – diminishing capabilities of the muscles to work or the lungs to supply oxygen.

The “art” of exercise is when you decide what you want to do to impose the demand.

  • Lift weights
  • Pilates
  • Swim
  • Bike or run long distance
  • Martial Arts
  • Cross country skiing

As long as you stress your systems, you will become more fit.  You muscles or lungs cannot distinguish one kind of load (training) from another.   All the systems know is that they are being taxed and so they respond with growth/improvement.

What Makes Up the Science of Sales Growth – Activities that Lead to Results

What is the science of sales growth then?  The science is the activity that leads to results.  This can be a long list, but it all comes down to this:


  1. Networking face-to-face in the community of your target market
  2. Making phone calls to the people whose names you have come into possession of (regardless of source)
  3. Active social selling using LinkedIn
  4. Meeting with internal partners who have access to people in your target market
  5. Providing an exceptional client experience so your clients become advocates and introduce you to others
  6. Directly asking clients for introductions
  7. Spending time with and being a great partner with other business partners so that they can refer business to you
  8. Writing articles, speaking and presenting to become the subject matter expert in your target market so that people seek you out.


  1. How well do you ask questions?
  2. When you are making a point, do you weave in metaphors, analogies and stories or do you simply quote data and statistics?
  3. How high is your emotional IQ?
  4. Are your questions the type of questions that provide meaningful insight to the emotions of action or ones that uncover “just the facts”?
  5. How memorable or forgettable are you when you call to talk to someone on the phone for the first time?
  6. How well do you “own the room” when you present?
  7. When you present, do you look, act and sound like everyone else?
  8. Are you emotional, passionate and willing to do whatever it takes (assuming ethical, legal and moral standards)?

ARE YOU GROWING? (Growing Sales Article Part I)

  1. What demands have you put on your behaviors to stretch your thinking and your abilities?
  2. What training or coaching have you undertaken that makes you uncomfortable, stretches your thinking and broadens your scope of conversation?
  3. How comfortable are you with having presidential, far reaching and/or vision creating discussions with decision makers who are resistant to change?
  4. In the last 18 months, how many books have you read, workshops or webinars attended, or speakers have you listened to on TED Talks or YouTube?
  5. Are you twice as smart about your business and the art and science of selling than you were 18 months ago?
  6. How indispensible are you to your company and clients?
  7. What do your numbers reflect:
    1. Personal income
    2. Sales goal increases year over year
    3. Your sales goal achievement compared to the best in class
    4. Your personal wealth
    5. The things you have, achieve, go, become
  8. How secure is your future financial wellbeing?
  9. If something happened to you today and you could no longer work, how well would your family be cared for financially?
  10. Would your company enthusiastically hire you again?

As a manager of salespeople, these are the questions you need to be asking. These are the points that you need to be thinking about/considering when discussing the building of a sales growth oriented sales team.

How Sales Leadership Establishes “The Science”

The Science:  My guess is that, in your organization, you have a CRM that provides you some math to help you with the science part.  CRMs are sales enablement tools.  They are only designed to collect the data; sales leadership has to do the rest.  The rest – is the science:

  • Identify the right metrics – data to collect
  • Have standards applied to those metrics that force your people to grow
  • Connect the metrics in a milestone structured sales process
  • Create success formulas for all producers
  • Compare actual performance to goal performance (including conversion ratios)
  • Obtain business intelligence that is predictive of future performance
  • Compare predictions to actual

The Art Needed for Growing Your Sales Team

The Art: The art of growing your sales team combines the data that you have with your coaching opportunities. There are skills required to be an effective coach.  Your ability to artfully execute these skills is what makes it easier to recruit top talent and keep the talent you have.

  • Having deep relationships based on confidence and trust
  • Understanding what really motivates your people
  • Asking great questions that help your salespeople discover what they should be doing
  • Not accepting mediocrity
  • No need for approval without being aggressive
  • A coaching bias – it’s more important to see your people succeed than for you to succeed

Additional Resources:

Download our Why is Selling So #%&@ Hard ebook

Watch our Sales Guy Unplugged Videos

Read more about Setting Standards

Topics: responsibilities of sales manager, predictable sales growth, business sales development

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    About our Blog

    Founder and CLO Tony Cole has been working with financial firms for more than 25 years to help them close their sales opportunity gap.  He is a master at using science based data and finely honed coaching strategies to help build effective sales teams.  Don’t miss his weekly sales management blog insights.


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